Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A very Italian Hanukah

As the smell of oil and onions begins to clear from our apartment, and because I haven't blogged in a while, I think this is a good point to reflect on some of the better meals that we had during Hanukah, two of which were based on Marcella Hazan's Italian recipes. We skipped some of our usual favorites, especially homemade sufganiot (jelly doughnuts). The night we had planned on making them, we had a hoard of teens and twenty-somethings descend on our house, devour almost 100 latkes, and I didn't feel like making a double recipe. I hope we get to do them next year though. I generally don't cook many pastries, but these are lots of fun to make, and the dough is a soft as a baby's bottom. The recipe that we use is from Faye Levy's International Jewish Cookbook, which is one of those great cookbooks that doesn't seem to contain a single bad recipe (but which annoyingly includes the author's name in the title).

What we did have that night, which proved to be very popular, were ricotta fritters, which sort of come from Marcella Hazan's second cookbook, More Classic Italian Cooking. I say "sort of" because I couldn't find the book and didn't feel like following some of her rather strict directions anyway (she can come off a bit like an Italian Margaret Thatcher). It will come as no surprise to the readers of this blog that one of the reasons I don't cook many pastries and cakes is that I don't like having to follow precise directions. We winged it and it came out great. An approximation of my version is below, but don't get too hung up on doing it exactly as I say.

The funny thing was that our other very successful dinner was Hazan's chicken with red cabbage, with a little Filipino touch at the end. That night only Amy, Harry and I were home, and we enjoyed it with latkes, which are actually fun to make when you are only cooking for three. The combination of red cabbage with the latkes was more Middle European than Italian. Maybe this is what they eat in Tyrol. Again, my adaptation is below. It was surprisingly good, and Harry, a real meat and potatoes man, had seconds on the cabbage. There was quite a bit of cabbage with rich chicken juices left over, and one day I will turn it into a soup with chicken sausage and white beans. I'll let you know how it comes out. But meanwhile, the recipes:

Ricotta Fritters:
  1. Take one pound of ricotta cheese and smush it around with a fork to smooth it a bit. I used fresh ricotta.
  2. Beat in 2 large eggs.
  3. Season with a pinch of salt, about a tablespoon of sugar, a tablespoon or two of rum, and a good amount of freshly grated nutmeg. Add a teaspoon of vanilla if you feel like it. (The original recipe calls for grated lemon rind, and I didn't want to bother so I used the other seasonings. The funny thing is that everyone raved about how lemony the fritters taste anyway. So, why bother?)
  4. Mix in about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour. Don't overmix because the gluten will develop and it may get tough. (Think pancakes and muffins here.) Add a bit more if it looks too moist. The exact quantity will depend on the moisture level of the ricotta.
  5. You may either deep fry or pan fry these. The method is basically the same, but deep frying uses vastly more oil, and as a consequence produces less greasy results.  To deep fry, heat a minumum of 2 inches of oil in a fryer or Dutch oven to 375 degrees.  To pan fry, use a skillet and about 3/4 inch of oil. Bubbles will form around a piece of bread when you dip it in.
  6. Take tablespoons of batter and push them gently into the oil with another spoon. (Don't drop it from a height.)
  7. Turn over when the underside browns with a spatula and a fork, and fry another minute or two. Regulate heat so that they cook quickly but don't burn.
  8. Remove with a slotted spoon, seive, or tongs. Drain on crumpled paper towels.
  9. Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle with Middle Eastern date honey (also known as date syrup) or a flavorful bee honey. Serve as soon as possible.
  10. Serves 6-8.
If you are super lowcarb, you could also substitute ground almonds for the flour.

Chicken with Red Cabbage:
  1. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pot or skillet large enough to accommodate all ingredients later, and add a medium onion, quartered, sliced and salted lightly and saute for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. When the onion is soft, add about 4 cloves of garlic, sliced, and saute a few more minute.
  3. Add about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of red cabbage, quartered, cored and shredded finely. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
  4. Cover and cook about 10 minutes until the cabbage begins to wilt.
  5. Add a smallish chicken (3 pounds or less), cut into 8 pieces. Mix into the cabbage, and pour 1/2 to 1 cup of red wine over it call.
  6. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down to medium low, and simmer about 45 minutes until the chicken is just done.
  7. Remove the chicken to a plate, and boil down the cabbage to reduce the juices as much as you want.
  8. Put the cabbage in a bake and serve dish, top with the chicken, skin side up, and broil in the middle of the oven until the chicken is well browned and the skin is crisp. (This is the Filipino touch, from Chicken Adobo, and it makes all the difference, especially if you hate flabby stewed chicken skin.)
  9. Serves 4, maybe with a little left over for lunch. Great with latkes. If not, serve roasted potatoes or a good baguette.
Note: You can easily double this recipe is you have a large enough pot. The ideal proportion is no more than 1/2 pound of red cabbage to pound of chicken. Don't be tempted to increase the cabbage or it won't be flavorful enough. If you want more cabbage, throw in some extra chicken backs or necks, or add some chicken stock and reduce it more.

1 comment:

  1. The ricotta fritters were AMAZING. Us twenty somethings at the table certainly appreciated all of the latke and fritter frying! I will definitely try this chicken and cabbage recipe. We love cabbage at our house and are always looking for inventive ways to use it. Thanks!